Acknowledgements:
Omi as always
For Kate the wunderbeta

Disclaimers:
"A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend" - Willow, Buffy the Vampire Slayer
I do not own the characters Don or Charlie nor do I have any rights
to anything related to the TV show Numb3rs. I plead fair use and
claim only my own writing and characters.


'This is the end.

I can't take it anymore.

No one understands me.

I've never fit in and I'm tired of trying.

There just isn't any other way.

I'm sorry.'

Don stood in Charlie's empty bedroom staring at the printout he'd found on the bed, frozen in place.

His eyes read the words and although his brain knew he should move, act, rush to find his brother before it was too late, he was paralyzed.

Stunned and overwhelmed with disbelief, his guilty thoughts raced with signs that he was trained to notice but had obviously overlooked in his only sibling.

With trembling hands he laid the note back down again and tried to figure out where Charlie would go, what he might do...

His new car was gone; Don had noticed that when he arrived. A car crash? Something that might look accidental even if it was purposeful? Don buried his face in his hands. He had to think and think clearly. Time could be of the essence.

It could also be too late, the nagging voice in the back of his head warned him. Don shook off his morbid thoughts and let the agent in him take over.

He flipped open his cell phone and dialed as he rushed out of the house to his car. "I need an APB on a silver Volvo, license plate P-I-3-1-4, owned by Charles Eppes." Don started the car and took off down the street at top speed, racing for the Cal Sci campus - hoping his gut instinct was correct.

Don's cell phone rang and he picked it up immediately. "Eppes!"

"Uh, hi. I'm looking for someone named Don?"

"Speaking."

"Hi. My name is Brad. I was given your phone number and asked to call you... to give you a message..."

"From who?"

"I'm sorry, I feel kind of dumb but I didn't think to ask his name. I know he's a professor here at Cal Sci but he was so upset I didn't ask any questions. I just said I'd do it. I guess someone he knows died so he was pretty out of it."

"Was his name Larry Fleinhardt?" Don asked, barely holding his panic in check.

"I really don't know. He's not a professor I have classes with so..."

Frustrated, Don said tersely, "What's the message?"

"For you to come to Cal Sci right away. The pool house. It's where the guy killed himself."

Don went cold.

"Hello?"

"I'm on my way." Don hung up the phone as he pulled into Cal Sci's parking lot. He'd only walked past the pool house once in the past but somehow managed to find it as he ran across the campus.

He burst through the gate surrounding the pool house and was almost immediately held back by a uniformed officer.

Don whipped out his badge and practically shoved it in the man's face as he pushed past him and headed for the door to the pool house. "FBI!"

He absentmindedly flipped his badge open over his pocket as he jostled his way through the crowd of people standing by the doorway. He quickly scanned the pool house for any signs of Charlie but didn't see him. His eyes alighted on a body bag being zipped up by the M.E. at the end of the pool and his knees went weak.

A paramedic moved out of the way and suddenly Don saw a figure on a bench hunched over and covered with a blanket. Even from across the room the unruly mop of dark curls was unmistakable.

"Charlie!" Don rushed up to his brother and embraced him, relieved to find him alive. Charlie returned his embrace tightly and Don could feel the dampness of his clothing through his own but didn't care. He hadn't lost Charlie and that was all that mattered.

When Don pulled away, he searched Charlie's face and could easily see how distraught he was. "What happened?" he asked gently.

"I... I found him." Charlie gestured shakily to the pool. "He was at the bottom of the pool... I was too late... I didn't save him..."

"Save who?" Don said, confused. When he didn't answer, Don held Charlie by the shoulders and turned him to face him. The contact seemed to strengthen Charlie and he finally looked at Don with clearer eyes.

"Grant. Grant Alderman. He left me a folder on my desk and I was too busy to read it, so I took it home with me. It had a draft of his thesis and a letter saying he wasn't going to finish it. I didn't realize right away but there was an extra sheet of paper in it: a suicide note. As soon as I saw it, I knew I had to find him right away. I rushed down here, checked his dorm, called Security... Then I remembered he used to swim laps and I ran over here thinking..." Charlie's breath hitched as he fought to keep control. "I found him in the pool. I thought maybe he'd just... I jumped in and pulled him out. The paramedics said there was nothing I could have done but if I'd just..." Charlie shook his head then let his head hang down. "I failed him..."

"Oh buddy, no... You can't think that way!" Don argued.

"It's Finn all over again..." Charlie said mournfully. "I couldn't help Finn then and I couldn't help Grant now."

"Charlie, you cannot think like that. Finn's death had nothing to do with you and I'm sure Grant's didn't either."

"I'm not so sure..." Charlie said softly.

"Well I am," Don said with certainty. "There's no way you'd turn away someone in need if they came to you. You're way too good hearted for that. If Grant had given you an opening to help him, I'm sure you'd have seen it and done something about it. You have to face facts, Charlie. Of all people who attempt suicide, young men in their teens and 20s are the least likely to put out signs that they want someone to stop them. There's a reason why they usually choose guns - there's less chance of last minute intervention. Grant obviously wanted to do this and there was likely nothing anyone could have done to stop him."

Charlie nodded slightly but said nothing.

"You're soaking wet," Don said. "Let me take you home so you can get changed into some dry clothes, okay?"

Charlie nodded again.

"I'm going to check to see if they need anything from you before we go. I'll be right back, buddy. Just sit tight."

Don headed off to check with the police and returned a few minutes later.

"You're cleared to leave so we can go now. Come on..."

Don pulled Charlie up by the arm and led him out to the parking lot.

Charlie didn't speak on the trip home and didn't protest when Don urged him to take a hot shower before changing clothes.

Don unconsciously started to pace Charlie's room while he waited but stopped when he noticed the letter was still there on the bed. He picked it up again and stared at it, wondering how he ever could have imagined that Charlie wrote it.

'No one understands me,' he read.

"Not true," he said aloud.

Down the hall, the sounds of the shower turning off startled him and he quickly folded the paper and stuffed it in his jacket pocket.

Charlie walked into the room slowly, dressed now in sweatpants and one of Don's old Stockton Rangers sweatshirts. He sat down on the edge of the bed with his hands in his lap and Don sat down beside him.

"You took the note away."

"Yeah."

"Thanks."

They sat in silence for a while before Don spoke next.

"Charlie, do you ever think that way? I mean, that people don't understand you?"

"Well people don't understand me, Don. I see that every day at Cal Sci. I'm surrounded by people who don't get me."

Don looked down and hoped Charlie wouldn't see the guilt and sadness on his face.

"You get me though," Charlie added after a moment.

"Yeah?" Don's face brightened and he looked up at Charlie. "I mean I think I do at least. I know I don't understand your math..."

"But you understand my passion for it and that's what matters," Charlie mused. "Sometimes I think you even understand some things better than I do, like with P vs. NP. I don't have the perspective to see how it can affect me but you do. You see it all and you know when to leave me alone..." Charlie fought back a swell of emotion. "And when to come and get me."

Don put his arm around his brother's shoulders and pulled him close. "I'll always come and get you. Don't worry."

Charlie looked at his brother, his expression filled with trust and faith. "I know."

Don gave him an affectionate squeeze and then stood up.

"Since Dad won't be home for a little while I'm going to make us some dinner. I figure soup and maybe some sandwiches. How does that sound? You can lay down for a bit while I'm getting stuff ready if you want."

Don headed for the door and Charlie stood up to follow him.

"That's okay. I'd rather be with you."

"Me too, buddy," Don said with a smile. "Always."